One of the points raised by Dr Gomez during the evening as well as in his Malaysiakini interview however, caught my attention:
... the practice of tampering with students’ examination marks to increase the passing rate. He cited a paper where the failure rate was high, amid the strong protest from the lecturers, the department concerned decided to give 13 additional percentage points across the board to all students.
This is probably "best" thing a University can do to lower the standards at our Universities. The fact that this happened at University Malaya, which quite undoubtedly is still the best in Malaysia is disgraceful.
- If it's going to be that easy to "pass" examination papers in UM, then the output quality of the students will slowly but surely erode over time, and employers will sooner or later discover the deteriorating standards of UM. It's really quite as simple as that!
- UM should not go down the route which many of the Australian universities appear to be taken by easing the academic requirements to pass examinations. Read about some of the scandals which has hit Australian universities in recent years. Newcastle University here and here. It's also blogged by Idlan Zakaria here on the impact of Australian certificates today. A more general article highlighting some of the "scandals" such as:
Examples of how our [the Australian] education system is being "dumbed down" include:
A lecturer being told to reduce lecture content to "high school level" to improve the rates of students passing his course.
- Where "fail" marks had been overridden to grant students Honours degrees.
- Where marks as low as 25 per cent were considered passes.
- Lecturers were forced to relax rules on plagiarism so that students who were not capable of writing essays would be allowed to cheat.
The older generation of Australian graduates have tended to be more reliable" in terms of qualifications. These days, from my personal experience, a degree from Monash or RMIT, Australia is equivalent to the average local Malaysian universities. You can still recruit the top students (which is difficult to ascertain) but the rest are just so weak. UM does not want to go there.
- The way to improve the pass rate of the students of UM is not to reduce the passing mark by a humongous 13% points. It is simply by (1) attracting the top students of the country to the university and (2) employing the best quality lecturers and academics in the university. The fact that the university requires the drastic move of significantly lowering the passing grade makes it obvious that either (1) or (2) or both are current failures at UM.
In a fairly long but enlightening article by Craig McInnis on Australia's e-journal of social and political debate, he was lamenting that the key reason behind falling standards at Australian universities was that:
... that the compression of grades towards the high end is an outcome of academics not having a clear and justifiable set of criteria for assessing student performance.
Without strong benchmarks and moderation processes at the discipline and subject level, academics are left to make judgments that are not always defensible in the face of external pressure. Surveys of academics in Australia, as elsewhere, find the majority is unsure whether students are better or worse now in terms of academic abilities than five years before.
McInnis' study was with reference to Australian universities but the lessons learnt are equally applicable to UM's attempt to tamper with passing grades. Is this a standard practice at our Malaysian universities today? When academic assessment in a university is no longer held sacrosanct, the student "passes" but the university fails.